Brasilia, Jakarta, and The New Capital

Abidzar Al Ghifari

Courtesy of Joana França

I directly grasped the chance offered by the author to make sketches about Brasilia. At that time, I just knew that Brasilia is a newly-planned capital city in Brazil built to replace the crowded Rio de Janeiro. Furthermore, this city is well known in my field of architecture because one of its designers is the Pritzker Prize Laureate, Oscar Niemeyer, a pure modernist architect and the only Brazilian to win a Pritzker to date. 

Satellite towns – sketches courtesy of Abidzar Al Ghifari

When the author told me concisely about Brasilia, my mind suddenly went to the question: how can such a “well-planned city” have a problem precisely similar to that of Jakarta? Although both of them are the capitals of their respective countries, Jakarta is more of an organic city in which the development of the city is natural and not well-planned contrary to Brasilia. It seems rather normal that Jakarta has informal settlements like kampung which are spread across the city. 

In Indonesian cities such as Jakarta, densely populated areas of poor communities in the center and peripheries of the city, locally known as ‘kampung’ are often given derogatory labels of ‘the slum’. For decades, there has been a negative light cast on the understanding of the kampung. Ever since the Dutch era, kampungs have been portrayed as chaotic, problematic spaces that hinder the progress of the city: a hub for disease and crime. 

Map of kampungs in Jakarta – Courtesy of Deepa Gopalakrishnan

The emergence of kampung occurs due to the inadequacy of the Government to fulfill the demand of housing for its people – a similar problem also arises in Brasilia. Innumerable kampungs stand side by side with tall buildings, unlike the satellite towns of Brasilia that are formed strictly on the outskirts of the city. Kampungs, due to their scattering around Jakarta, form mutually dependent relationships amongst people belonging to varied socioeconomic statuses. The majority of people cannot afford to live in the city, thereby leading to the creation of some informal settlements around the city which further on expand, to form full fledged “satellite towns”. This is triggered also by the rise of poverty and the inequality in Brazil that make it harder to be solved. 

If we track back to 1960, the year when the city was founded, the aim of the design of the city was to provide “comfortable accommodation, with modern amenities, for all groups and classes in society,” as Frigo and Henley (2020) said. But, unfortunately, as  year by year goes on, its real intention just becomes more of  a “utopia”. The city caters solely  to the rich and the middle class families, whereas  the lower income brackets are forced to live on the periphery. Yet, this city just becomes an epitome of how the reality of inequality in Brazil has spread to its newly-planned capital. 

The Indonesian Government also planned to move its capital to East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. Jakarta is the current capital city of Indonesia, residing over 10 million people. The intention of relocating the capital has been expressed at multiple occasions since 1945, when the country gained independence from the Dutch. 

Jakarta Kampung – sketches courtesy of Abidzar Al Ghifari

Jakarta has been reported to have the world’s worst traffic congestions and is also struggling under a huge environmental burden with deteriorating air quality. It is also sinking at one of the fastest rates in the world and is estimated to have large parts be entirely submerged by 2050 resulting mainly due to over extraction of groundwater for drinking and bathing.

The location of the New Capital, similar to that of Brasilia, is in the centre of Indonesia and close to urban areas. One of the inspirations of the Indonesian government was that of Brasilia. They hail Brasilia to be one of  the more “successful” attempts at replacing the capital. The over-stigmatising and derogatory image of the kampung has strengthened the government’s desire to “fix” it which rather results in massive forced evictions. 

This has left thousands of residents displaced and threatens the notion of the kampung as a unique form of life. Giving the reason that Jakarta is “broken” and “hard to fix’’, the Government planned to spend about  27 billion dollars just to move the capital. But, there are some critics of that plan. Emil Salim, the former minister in the Soeharto era, said that if Jakarta is broken, “then fix it”.  Moreover, he criticized that the replacement of capital is nonsense if the Government also spent another 27 billion dollars to “fix the problem of Jakarta”.

The case of the New Capital of Indonesia is like that of  Brasilia. It has a resemblant inclination with Brasilia because now, some private developers are already promoting housing “near the capital” in a “high-class” apartment style. Like Frigo and Henley (2020) wrote, “The new capital fits squarely into this category of recent policy impulses that are essentially elitist rather than inclusive, and symbolic rather than practical.” The location for the new capital is said to be chosen in order to fulfill the oligarchic financial interests.

Will the New Capital become Brasilia? I don’t know. But, when I compare Brasilia, Jakarta, and the New Capital, the people of Indonesia should worry that their government’s plan will just scatter their tax. 

Someother Magazine

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